David Lawton, 1751–1833


cabinetmaker; yeoman


Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Washington, New York


David Lawton was born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island April 18, 1751, to Isaac Lawton (1726– 1802) and Mary (Fish) Lawton (1731–1793). His paternal grandparents were John Lawton (born 1696) and Abigail (Abbott) Lawton, a family with deep roots in Portsmouth. His maternal grandparents were David Fish (born 1709) and Jemima (Tallman) Fish (born 1708).(1)

From a long line of Quakers and early settlers on Aquidneck Island, Lawton sought permission from the Society of Friends for his marriage to Hannah Anthony (born 1753) of Portsmouth, daughter of Isaac Anthony, in July, 1775.(2) In November of that year, Lawton was identified as a Portsmouth cabinetmaker when he sued Portsmouth yeoman Job Almy to recover thirty five pounds. He was awarded sixty six dollars and "seventeen hundredths of a dollar" by the Newport County Inferior Court of Common Pleas.(3)

Though Lawton was identified as a cabinetmaker, he engaged in a diverse practice following the Revolution, as was typical for Rhode Island craftsmen of the era. In October, 1776, he submitted an account to the town of Portsmouth after making a coffin for a Native American woman named Sarah Crank.(4) She was presumably one of the town poor, given that her coffin was constructed at the expense of the town. Much of Lawton's work was similarly billed to the town of Portsmouth. In July, 1780, he presented accounts for two coffins-one for Native American man Thomas Sanders and one for the child Ruth Strange-and an account for building a gate and setting posts for the town pound.(5) In 1787, he charged the town for a coffin made for Margaret Huddlestone.(6)

The final record of Lawton's work in Portsmouth is included in the January, 1794, estate account of Jonathan Albro that includes a debt to Lawton for making a coffin.(7) He is possibly the David Lawton of Washington in Dutchess County, New York, called, "a Quaker farmer, from Rhode Island" in 1821 when he developed a newsworthy technique for reclaiming over cultivated farmland.(8)

He died in early February, 1833, in Fall River, Massachusetts.(9)

Benjamin W. Colman and Patricia E. Kane

1. Vital Record of Rhode, Island, 1636-1850, http://www.NewEnglandAncestors.org.

2. Monthly Meeting July 25, 1775, Society of Friends, Newport, Rhode Island, Monthly Meetings 1773-1790, p. 62, microfilm no. 0022418, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

3. David Lawton v. Job Almy, November, 1775, Inferior Court of Common Pleas, Newport County, Record Book, vol. I 1/2, p. 533, Judicial Archives, Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, Pawtucket, R.I.

4. David Lawton account, October 10, 1776, Portsmouth Probate, vol. 6, p. 122, Portsmouth Town Hall, R.I..

5. David Lawton account, July 10, 1780, Portsmouth Probate, vol. 6, pp. 133–134, Portsmouth Town Hall, R.I.

6. David Lawton account, May 14, 1787, Portsmouth Probate, vol. 7, p. 144, Portsmouth Town Hall, R.I..

7. Jonathan Albro estate account, January 10, 1794, Portsmouth Probate, vol. 7, p. 207, Portsmouth Town Hall, R,I.

8. Easton Gazette, "Worn Out Land- A Mind of Wealth," August 18, 1821.